How to “Manage Up” as a Consultant
When working as a consultant, there are sometimes instances where you have a new boss that comes onto a project that you’re working on. This gives an interesting twist to the job because, although you’re not a permanent employee of the company, you’ve actually been working on the project for longer than the new boss has been on the job. So, how do you handle the new leadership style without letting it get in the way of your consultant process?
Well, you need to “manage up”. What should your process be when you’re months into a consulting project and suddenly a new boss is not on board who is slowing things down? Maybe they want to insert themselves into the day to day minutia when it’s only hindering the whole process. First, you have to remember that as a new hire they are trying to find their rhythm. It is a necessary evil that every person has to go through when they fill a new position. The thing that people should remember is that you want to find your rhythm without slowing down the whole process. Unfortunately, that’s not how it usually works out.
Next, you have to understand that it’s in your best interest to maintain an effective, productive working relationship with your boss –as difficult as this may be. As consultants, we may have different projects and different clients going at the same time. This doesn’t mean though that we should discount the importance of the relationships with each of our clients and our “bosses” during that timeframe that we are working on the project.
From Harvard Business Review:
Perhaps the most important skill to master is figuring out how to be a genuine source of help — because managing up doesn’t mean sucking up. It means being the most effective employee you can be, creating value for your boss and your company. That’s why the best path to a healthy relationship begins and ends with doing your job, and doing it well.
As HBR pointed out, managing up does NOT mean sucking up. As a consultant, you are on that project for a reason and you are lending your set of skills because you are good at what you do. If you had a process that was working well before the new hire, it’s reasonable to reinforce the practices that you’ve already established as working well. If it’s not broken, there’s no need to fix it. Consultants are brought onto projects to add their experience, fresh perspective, and unique set of skills. You were hired specifically for your ability to take charge of a project and handle it.
This doesn’t mean that you should be insubordinate; it is in your best interest and the best interest of the project to maintain an effective working relationship. Reinforce the practices and processes you’ve established, help them find a rhythm that feels comfortable for them and for you, and remain productive. You cannot let the hiring of new management result in poor production for your product or your team. It is certainly something that can take time to get used to and is filled with learning curves, but it can be done.
What have your experiences been on consulting jobs in the past? Do you find yourself managing up with new bosses or management that are hired after you’ve been working on the project for a time? Do you feel comfortable reinforcing your established processes? Do you find the need for them to insert themselves into minute details overwhelming? Comment below!
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